Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Rickroll is dead; long live the Rickroll

I hereby declare the end of the Rickroll.

The Internet prank, which involves a seemingly cool Web link that goes instead to a video of ’80s pop star Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up,” is passé now that the ultimate Rickroll has been pulled.

During NBC’s annual broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last week, Astley got the last laugh. He appeared unexpectedly on the Cartoon Network float and lip-synced his most infamous hit single.

In an instant, Astley had Rickrolled more people than any online prankster could ever dream of. No one can top that, so it’s time to stop trying.

The Rickroll is over. Now we need a replacement.

Fortunately, the 1980s is a treasure trove of ghastly songs that soared to the top of the pop charts. I blame cocaine abuse.

“The Girl Is Mine.” Before they tangled over the rights to the Beatles catalog, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney recorded two duets. The first, and worst, was 1982’s “The Girl Is Mine” from Jackson’s “Thriller.” As the first single off the most popular album of all time, “The Girl Is Mine” was everywhere. Now that the drugs have worn off, however, we can recognize what an unbearably hokey song it is.

“Ebony and Ivory.” Earlier that year, McCartney teamed up with Stevie Wonder for another duet, “Ebony and Ivory.” The song reached No. 1 on both the U.S. and British pop charts, proving that bad taste doesn’t respect geographic boundaries. As trite as it is awful, “Ebony and Ivory” uses the black and ivory keys of a piano as a metaphor for racial harmony. And in case you don’t get the message, McCartney and Wonder’s harmonizing is also a metaphor for racial harmony. Listening to the song today is like having a piano dropped on your head.

Let this be a lesson to everyone: If McCartney wants to record a duet with you, just say no.

“Ice Ice Baby.” This song was Vanilla Ice’s contribution to bad music, giving the world insightful lyrics like “Will it ever stop? Yo, I don't know/Turn off the lights, and I'll glow.” Vanilla Ice, aka Robert Matthew Van Winkle, almost won a Grammy for this atrocity. However, he lost to ...

“U Can’t Touch This.” Yes, there was a time when people thought MC Hammer was cool. He was so cool, in fact, that you couldn’t touch him — presumably because you’d get frostbite if you did. So, he penned the song “U Can’t Touch This.”

Most recently, the man otherwise known as Stanley Kirk Burrell was getting in touch with his spiritual side as the host of a show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. But whether or not his soul is immortal, his song is — like a vampire sucking the life out of anyone it encounters.

“Who Can It Be Now?” I will admit a nostalgic fondness for Men at Work’s other hit, “Down Under,” a reggae-tinged anthem to the manly virtues and poor dietary habits of Australians. But “Who Can It Be Now?” hasn’t aged well. Neither has …

“Somebody’s Watching Me.” This is the only hit by Rockwell, son of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. Both “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Somebody’s Watching Me” deal with paranoia and have lyrics such as “Is it the man come to take me away?/Why do they follow me?” and “When I’m in the shower/I’m afraid to wash my hair/’Cause I might open my eyes/And find someone standing there.”

Why were these songs so popular in the ’80s? Again, I fault cocaine, which is said to cause paranoid delusions. These were songs cokeheads could relate to.

But probably the best potential successor to “Never Gonna Give You Up” is …

“Girl You Know It’s True.” Milli Vanilli won a Grammy for Best New Artist after releasing this earnestly lame single in 1989. But the duo had to give back their award because someone else actually recorded the vocals. The truth, however, is this song is bad no matter who sings it.

The ’80s gave us so much terrible music that I could go on for hours. But it takes a truly heartfelt, unironic and irredeemably shallow song to replace “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It set the standard.

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